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Are Bonsai Trees Safe for Chameleons? (What Else Can You Use?)

Are Bonsai Trees Safe for Chameleons? (What Else Can You Use?)

The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.

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When you are decorating your chameleon’s habitat, there are so many different ways that you can make it unique and give your chameleon a real little world to live in.

In fact, it is often considered very important to make sure that your chameleon has more than enough plants to feel comfortable and at home in its enclosure. Naturally, though, there are going to be some plants that are not safe for chameleons to be around.

Chameleons tend to live in more tropical regions of the world and this happens to be where there are many, many different kinds of plants. This means that there are endless possibilities for what you can choose to help your chameleon thrive.

More often than not, you should try and stick with plants that would normally be found in your chameleon’s natural habitat, depending on the species.

This may not always be possible, though, depending on where you are and what plants you have access to. When you cannot use authentic plants that your chameleon would typically hang around on, you are going to have to try to compromise to ensure that you will be able to provide your chameleon with an entertaining home.

This has a tendency to mean that you are introducing plants to the chameleon’s enclosure that it would not normally encounter.

Chameleon Sitting on Branch

Chameleons are naturally cautious creatures so you will not know immediately if a plant is dangerous for your chameleon. This actually creates more of a problem as your chameleon may take a considerable amount of time to investigate the plants that are strange to it.

This may mean that you could have forgotten about which plants were new to the enclosure and which ones weren’t. This is not a situation that anyone has to have happen.

When decorating a chameleon enclosure with plants, you need to take extra care to make sure that any plants you choose that would not naturally be in the chameleon’s habitat are not plants that are going to be toxic to the chameleon.

While chameleons are entirely insectivores, this will not stop a chameleon from taking a bite of a plant when trying to eat a bug so you need to be mindful of what you put into your chameleon’s home even if it will not actively go after plants.

The Problem with Bonsai Trees

Chinese Elm Bonsai

The answer as to whether or not bonsai trees are safe for chameleons is a question that is incredibly difficult to answer as there are so many possibilities.

This is because the term “bonsai” actually only refers to the fact that bonsai trees are typically grown in bowls; with that being the only qualifier for a “bonsai” tree, this means that there are countless species of bonsai tree.

In general, as long as the tree is non-toxic, it is going to be perfectly fine to be a part of your chameleon’s habitat. Naturally, this also means that if the tree in question is a tree that is known to be toxic to chameleons, then you shouldn’t put it into the enclosure.

Thankfully, many chameleon lovers out there have put together a comprehensive list of what plants are safe for most chameleons to encounter and what plants should be avoided at all costs for your chameleons.

The main problem with bonsai trees, especially the traditional ones, is less of a problem with the chameleon itself so much as the chameleon’s temperament. What this means is that because bonsai trees tend to be such high-maintenance plants, you are going to have to be entering the chameleon’s enclosure on a frequent basis to take care of watering and other bonsai care.

On top of that, bonsai trees tend to have very specific sets of requirements for the best growth and most chameleon enclosures clash with those requirements.

This means that not only is your chameleon, who is naturally solitary and wary, going to be bothered by your frequent intrusions into its home but you are also going to have to work with the bonsai tree more often if you want to keep it healthy. In the end, it becomes less of a matter of safety and more of a matter of convenience.

Nobody wants to disturb their chameleon multiple times a day because they are trying to keep a complex tree alive and your chameleon certainly isn’t going to give a second thought to the care you put into maintaining the bonsai tree, as it will just be any other tree to the chameleon.

What Can You Choose Instead?

Plastic Bonsai on Wooden Table

It will often be much, much easier for you to purchase a tree that replicates the appearance of the bonsai without actually being a bonsai tree and can handle the climate of the chameleon’s enclosure far better than a typical bonsai tree would.

You can also consider investing in a fake bonsai tree if it is the aesthetic of the enclosure that you are trying to improve upon.

Be mindful that if you are working with a completely fake tree, you are going to have to do some research to make sure the material will be non-toxic and safe for your chameleon to accidentally take a bite of when it tries to eat its bugs.

As for the different types of trees that you can consider for your chameleon’s enclosure, your possibilities are endless as long as you do the right amount of research. You are going to want to make sure that you are referencing the right species of chameleon when you are looking at trees that are safe for your chameleon.

While most chameleons are similar in terms of appearance and temperament, some chameleons may be more sensitive to certain trees than others and this can cause problems.

One of the most common trees that would be a replacement for a traditional bonsai tree would be a Chinese Elm tree. These trees are known to handle the environment of the enclosure well while also being a safe tree for most chameleons to be around.

In addition to this, they tend to be relatively inexpensive, depending on where you are from, so even if this tree doesn’t work out with the appearance of the enclosure, it won’t be too much money out of your wallet.

If you can’t find them locally, you can even order one on amazon, along with a digital (Kindle) book on how to care for a Chinese elm.

Leaves of Umbrella Plant

As for some other additions you could make if you are not as focused on the idea of the bonsai’s appearance include the weeping fig, the umbrella plant, the money tree, and the china doll plant.

All of these trees make for strong centerpieces that can take the place of what a bonsai tree would offer and are safe for at least veiled chameleons. These trees can make for a beautiful addition to any chameleon enclosure as long as you are careful about the leaves and take care not to let too much water stand around them.

Centerpiece plants do not provide as much use to the chameleon as they provide an aesthetic appearance of the enclosure of the chameleon. This means that you can be a little bit selfish about choosing a plant solely for its appearance as long as you are making sure that it is safe for your chameleon to be around.

These plants, from the point of view of your chameleon, serve mostly as a nice big tree for your chameleon’s home to be near. If your chameleon is a bit of a curious one, it can serve as a way to climb around and have a vantage point in its home but not all chameleons are going to be interested in this.

You can also consider the idea of trailing plants to take the place of where a bonsai tree would typically sit. While many people insist on having a centerpiece tree for the chameleon to climb on, some chameleons may also want to hide under and around these trailing plants so that they can feel safe and secure, and may even want to climb around on the leaves.

Spider Plant in the Sun

The spider plant is a very common and very accessible plant that you could use for this purpose, as are the climbing fig, the prayer plant, and so on.

Trailing plants serve the purpose of creating vine-like surfaces that your chameleon can explore. This means that they will not fundamentally replace the strong centerpiece that a bonsai tree would offer but would be a different kind of surface that your chameleon would be able to explore.

When working with this idea, consider what would be the most natural in your chameleon’s natural habitat as that is essentially what you are trying to recreate with all the plants that you need to add to the enclosure.

Ultimately, there are many better plants that you can choose for your chameleon’s enclosure than a bonsai tree. Bonsai trees are noticeably high-maintenance plants, and in an enclosure where you want to disturb the chameleon as little as possible, it is simply going to be a wasted effort that you will have to clean up after when it inevitably dies.

There are countless other plants out there that you can add to your chameleon’s home that will be more suitable, both maintenance and longevity-wise.